Saving the Best for Last

A powerful Chinese quartet captured the Reisinger Board-a-Match Teams crown at the Fall NABC in San Diego, a first in the history of the contest. The winners are Jack Zhao–Yinghao Liu and Yuxiong Shen–Zijian Shao, with non-playing captain Jianhua Miao. The is the first NABC title for all members of the squad except for Zhao, who won the Vanderbilt KO Teams in 2006.
MIAO finished with a score of 31.35, just ahead of the squad led by George Mittelman, who posted a final tally of 30.50. Playing with Mittelman were Ken Bercuson, Ron Pachtmann and Piotr Pawel Zatorski.
Zhao said that the winners formed their team five days before the tournament started.
“My partner, Yinghao Liu, is a good young player. He is still in his early 30s, and he turned pro only two years ago. He also plays for Red Bull China,” Zhao said.
“The other pair includes Yuxiong Shen, who is the team ‘client,’ but I must say, he is a wasted bridge talent! He learned bridge in college 30 years ago, but turned his attention to his construction business. Shen is a very good card player, but his bidding methods are somewhat old-fashioned. Until now, he only played an old version of Chinese Precision that was popular in the 1980s. His partner, Zijian Shao, represented China in the early 1990s, including the 1995 Bermuda Bowl that was held in Beijing. After that tournament, he worked as a financial advisor. Nevertheless, I believe Shao was (and still is) a very good top player.
“We were supposed to be a ‘tourist’ team only for the Reisinger, so winning the trophy was a big surprise, not only to everyone else, but also to us. Now I know what luck can do to us!”
According to Zhao, who is originally from Tianjin but is now a resident of Boca Raton FL, Liu is from Beijing, while Shen and Shao live in Shanghai.
The Reisinger is the most prestigious board-a-match contest in existence. For those unfamiliar with the scoring method, teams compare results after playing duplicated deals. The team that gets the better result on a given board gets one point (a “win”), while the loser gets zero. Ties are scored as one half for each squad.
The Reisinger is a three-day contest with qualifying, so roughly half of the field is eliminated on each of the first two days of the event. Qualifying teams receive a carryover bonus each round, depending on the strength of their performance; this explains the fractional totals in the scores.
Forty-eight squads entered the 2017 Reisinger, each hoping to grab one of the qualifying slots: Only 20 teams would advance to the semifinal round.
In the 26-board first qualifying session, MIAO scored a dead average of 13, but in the second qualifying session, MIAO posted 17 wins, including this one against Paul Fireman’s team on this freak deal:

Dlr: South ♠ Q 7
Vul: E-W Q 9
A 8 6 5 4 3 2
♣ K 7
♠ 9 6 4 ♠ A K J 3 2
A K 10 8 6 4 3 2 J 7 5
Q 10 K J 7
♣ — ♣ 6 3
♠ 10 8 5
♣ A Q J 10 9 8 5 4 2
5 Pass 6 All Pass

Joel Wooldridge opened 5♣, and Zhao overcalled 5. Liu raised to 6. On the ♣K lead, Zhao made six for plus 1430.
At the other table, Shao also opened the South hand 5♣, but West decided to pass. When East reopened the auction with a double, however, West jumped to 6. So Shao decided to trust the opponents and bid 7♣ as a sacrifice. Even doubled, this deci-sion was enough to win the board, but 7♣ turned out to be a maker when West led the A. Taking advantage of the two trump entries, Shao was able to set up diamonds to make the contract.
With a two-session total of 30, MIAO easily qualified for the semifinal round: The squad started the second day in a four-way tie for seventh.
But then, a disaster: Getting the start times mixed up for the commencement of play in the first semifinal round, the members of the Miao team showed up an hour late and missed the first six boards in play.
“We had to start with six zeroes,” Zhao said. “We almost withdrew, but finally decided to play anyway to pass the day.”
Despite the self-inflicted injury, the team managed to score 14.5 in the first semifinal session, and added 16.5 in the second set to finish the day in fifth place among the 10 squads that qualified for the final. According to Zhao, “We qualified for the final with one round to go.”
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